All I Could Never Be
Fanya, a young Polish Jew, living and working on the Lower East Side, attends a lecture by a famous educator, Henry Scott, that seems meant specifically for her. Scott calls America "the meeting ground of all the nations of the world" and exhorts Americans to "blaze a trail to a future where people would be judged not by membership in a group . . . but as individuals on their own merits." On an impulse, Fanya goes to Scott's university office and boldly asks him to read the autobiography she has written. After a highly charged exchange, the rational, older, American professor is won over by the young, passionate, Jewish immigrant. She is his fascination; he is her "symbol of all she could never be." Scott becomes her mentor, leading Fanya to success as an author. He also expresses romantic interest in her, but ultimately rebuffs her socially. Although she is crushed, instead of returning to the ghetto to live among "her own people," as so many before her have done, Fanya chooses to advance further into America. She buys a house in a quiet New England village, where, eventually, another newcomer becomes an unexpected soul mate--and she prepares to make a home.
This moving portrait of a vibrant and talented immigrant woman is based on the author's true relationship with John Dewey, the important and famous educator who was her most significant influence. It depicts the workings of American society during the 1930s, especially between the privileged class and immigrants who were striving for a better life. It is an early and optimistic story of Jewish assimilation, and grapples with issues still faced by immigrants today.
The comprehensive introduction by Dr. Catherine Rottenberg, who rescued the novel from obscurity, describes the novel's significance, placing it in the context of Yezierska's work and life, as well as within the Jewish American literary tradition.
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